The Iowa forward knows his quickness will be challenged Saturday
If height was the biggest advantage in basketball, Iowa would be undefeated.
Size needs to be paired with speed. Speed needs to accompany anticipation.
Such will be the test for the Hawkeyes again when they take on a small but veteran Drake team at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines (BTN).
The Bulldogs (5-5) can boast something the Hawkeyes (5-6) cannot — a win over a high-major opponent. Drake beat Wake Forest of the Atlantic Coast Conference in its season opener, and also has close losses to Colorado and, most recently, at Minnesota.
Iowa is 0-4 against bigger-brand programs, including two setbacks against fellow Big Ten schools. The average margin of defeat has been 12 points.
So look past the Hawkeyes’ 58-10 record against the Bulldogs and their five-game winning streak against the in-state foe.
Don’t focus on Iowa’s size advantage, either.
Drake has the edge in experience, starting four senior guards and a junior center. And the Bulldogs excel in one area that has given the Hawkeyes trouble: 3-point shooting.
Drake, led by Reed Timmer, is 13th in the nation with a 42.3 percentage from the arc. The Bulldogs buried 12 of them to push the Gophers to the final buzzer in a 68-67 loss Monday.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery says Drake is a veteran team that will be a big challenge.
“They've got a lot of guys making 3s, a lot of guys making plays,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of the Bulldogs. “They play small, but it doesn't seem to affect them on the glass like you think it would. They're in there battling.”
McCaffery started a three-guard lineup for the first time this season in a Dec. 7 loss at Iowa State. Don’t be surprised to see that arrangement again Saturday.
Drake starts four players 6-foot-2 or shorter. Iowa has only one such player on its roster in 6-foot point guard Jordan Bohannon.
“Going against our team every day in practice, I’m the shortest guy on the floor, so it’s kind of fun going against some guys that are my height,” Bohannon joked this week.
The key for Iowa is going to be shutting down Drake on the perimeter. That starts with Timmer, who averages 20.7 points per game and scorched the Hawkeyes for 25 points in this meeting two years ago.
Timmer is coming off a 1-for-8 shooting night at Minnesota, where he was dogged by 6-5 guard Dupree McBrayer. But Timmer showed great patience in not forcing shots, and his teammates proved capable of making the Gophers pay.
Iowa wing players Maishe Dailey (6-7) and Jack Nunge (6-11) should be vital in making life difficult for Drake’s long-range shooters. If those two relatively inexperienced but versatile players can make reads early enough and close out quick enough, the Bulldogs will find little room to shoot.
“We need to clamp down and stay in our stance for the whole possession, and try to use our length and our height to our advantage,” said Nunge, who blocked four shots in Iowa’s win over Southern on Sunday.
“I have pretty long arms, I’m pretty tall. So being able to get out on the shooters and get a high-hand closeout, I think that’s something that this team needs going forward.”
Dailey isn’t a shot-blocker but is Iowa’s best perimeter defender.
“With how tall I am, I can defend forwards and 3-men. And with how quick I am, I can sit down and defend point guards, and I’m just confident in my defensive ability to do that,” he said.
The sophomore guard also explains why he and Jack Nunge play well together .
McCaffery has been using zone defenses often lately, but said he may have to stick with more man-to-man against Drake, which will look to spread the floor and spot up for 3s. Dailey and Nunge can be effective in either defensive scheme.
On offense, Iowa will undoubtedly try to wear out Drake in the post, where 6-9 Tyler Cook and 6-11 Luka Garza should be able to have their way. Minnesota outscored the Bulldogs 42-18 in the paint.
Hawkeye sophomore forward Cordell Pemsl is questionable to play after suffering a lacerated shin in the Iowa State game, but Ryan Kriener (6-9) and Ahmad Wagner (6-7) can help with the quest for post dominance.
“I think that’s been kind of our focus at the start of the season is to try to get the ball down low and establish our post play,” Bohannon said.
If so, it will be imperative that Iowa make its free throws. The Hawkeyes are connecting on just 65.2 percent from the stripe and had a woeful 1-for-8 showing against the Cyclones. Drake, meanwhile, is fifth in the nation at 79.8 percent from the line.
So it will be Iowa’s muscle against Drake’s moxie. One team wants to own the paint, the other the arc. Players who can do both — like Dailey and Nunge — may decide things.
There’s also the emotion of another in-state rivalry game. Nunge, who played high school basketball in Indiana, got his first taste of one against Iowa State, and the result wasn’t what he wanted.
A loss to Drake would start the arguments of whether the Hawkeyes are actually the fourth-best Division I program in their own back yard.
“Iowa State was huge. You hear about 'Cyclone state' or 'Hawkeye state' pretty much every year and see the arguments all over Twitter,” said Nunge, who had 16 points in the 84-78 loss in Ames.
“I think that was a high-energy game, and we need to bring that atmosphere more often.”